More funds needed to help Rohingya women who have fled rape and violence

More than 300,000 women and girls who have fled rape and violence are not getting the protection and help they need because of a lack of funds, Oxfam said ahead of a donor conference in Geneva today.

October 23, 2017

There are now more than 120,000 pregnant women and mothers with new babies struggling to survive in cramped camps and settlements that are ill-equipped to deal with their needs. Among them are many pregnant teenagers and victims of rape. According to Cox's Bazar Civil Surgeon’s office, 50 infants are born daily into dire conditions in camps starved for water, food, shelter, and protection.

“The camps are completely overcrowded and the limited facilities and safety put women and girls at risk of further harassment and sexual exploitation." - Nazmun Nahar

Only 26 per cent of the UN's $434 million emergency humanitarian appeal has been delivered so far. With hundreds of thousands more people fleeing over the border, more money is desperately needed to plug this $320 million funding gap.

“The camps are completely overcrowded and the limited facilities and safety put women and girls at risk of further harassment and sexual exploitation. The lack of toilets means women have to use open spaces," said Nazmun Nahar, Oxfam’s Gender Justice Program Manager.

"Women are afraid of cleaning themselves when people are around, so they use toilets or water points during the night or early morning, when there’s no guarantee of their safety. Some women drink less water and stop consuming food to avoid having to use toilets. A lot more needs to be done,” Nahar said.

Oxfam has spoken to many women who said they have only washed once since crossing the border in the last two months. There are also reports of women being harassed at humanitarian aid distribution points and becoming victims of assault and theft.

More than half of the 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh are women - 60 per cent of them girls under the age of 18. They have faced a treacherous journey across the border fleeing violence in Northern Rakhine. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported women and girls as young and five years old were raped by men in army uniforms as they fled their homes.

The majority of the refugees arrive with only the clothes on their backs and the 30,000 who arrived on Wednesday remain in no man's land. Once they arrive in the large encampments women and girls often find no segregated, safe, and closed toilets, bathing and washing areas. Lack of toilets and menstrual hygiene is causing urinary and skin infections, and it’s a struggle for mothers to breastfeed infants given the lack of safe spaces. Women who have survived rape and violence are struggling to cope with the trauma and need counseling and support.

In addition to providing clean water and food, Oxfam is providing dignity kits which include sanitary towels, baskets, torches, and soap for women and girls. 

As the violence continues in Northern Rakhine, refugees continue to arrive in increasing numbers - at least 50,000 in three days this week. As the UN reports, military violence in Northern Rakhine has increased over the recent weeks, leaving many more Rohingya people at risk.

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Notes to Editors: 

Humanitarian Coordinator, Paolo Lubrano is available for interview in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, and Humanitarian Policy Advisor, Josephine Liebl is available in Geneva.

Contact information

Shirlee Engel
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047
shirlee.engel@oxfam.org